Mothers learn the basics of a healthy diet for their children
Nampula (Mozambique), August 2008 – It is mid-morning in Ilha de Mocambique, a small island on the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Nampula Province. In the mother-and-child ward of the island’s main health centre, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore can be heard through an opened window. On a bed at the back of the room, Suhura Vasco is playing with her frail one-year-old daughter Muaziza.
“I brought Muaziza here because she wasn’t growing properly,” says Vasco. “She wasn’t eating anything and she was losing a lot of weight.”
Nearby, Nutrition Technician Anabela Muchuza is making her rounds. The giggling voice of Muaziza draws her attention, and she approaches the bed to greet the mother and her child.
Muchuza is visibly satisfied with Muaziza’s recovery, who has been steadily gaining weight thanks to a regimen of therapeutic milk and other fortified food supplements.
Chronic malnutrition among children under five in Mozambique stands at 41 per cent and nutritional problems are the underlying cause of half the child deaths in the country.
“Many mothers don’t know how to prepare a nutritious meal; that’s why nutritional education is a fundamental part of our national nutrition programme,” explains Muchuza.
To prevent children from becoming malnourished at different stages of their life cycle, the Ministry of Health, with support from UNICEF, has put in place a Basic Nutrition Package in primary health care centres throughout the country.
The package includes activities on infant and young child feeding, maternal nutrition, micronutrient supplementation, de-worming and growth monitoring. As part of the programme, mothers and other child care givers are taught good childcare practices and ways of improving children’s nutrition.
Children like Muaziza, who already suffer from moderate or severe malnutrition, are immediately enrolled in a nutritional rehabilitation programme which includes therapeutic and supplementary feeding interventions.
After her round, Muchuza heads for the Lumbo Health Centre, a short drive away. Many mothers with their young children are already queuing in front of the main building.
Under the leafy trees of the courtyard, a group of ‘model mothers’ are beginning a demonstration, led by Rosa Ernesto, who has been a midwife in the mother-and-child services in this health centre for the past 12 years.
Model mothers groups are made up of volunteers who accept to teach other mothers on good nutrition habits. The approach is part of a community outreach strategy aimed at improving nutritional practices in rural areas.
“We show mothers how to make the best use of foods that they can easily find here in the market, such as eggs, groundnuts, maize, flour, vegetables, sugar, salt, local fruit and others.” explains Ernesto.
A recent nutrition survey conducted in June 2008 by the Government estimates that approximately 300,000 people suffer from acute food insecurity and an additional 780,000 people are at risk or suffer chronically from food insecurity in the country.
The recent increase in food prices is likely to exacerbate the problem by pushing vulnerable households to opt for more affordable but less nutritious food, leading to higher levels of vitamin and mineral deficiency, particularly among young children.
In response, UNICEF has invested an additional $3 million in support of the Government’s nutrition programme in the country to scale up therapeutic and supplementary feeding interventions in collaboration with other UN agencies and national partners.